From PPC to Programmatic- Differences and Similarities

Programmatic marketing has seen an incredible rise in terms of buzz and real dollars spent in the last few years. If you are reading this, then you are already aware how important programmatic is to the future of digital marketing. Emarketer, the leading research site on all things digital claims that by 2018 programmatic will account for 82% of all display buys online. Which then leads to the question, who is going to manage all these buys?


Programmatic came on the scene with a bang almost immediately there was a shortage of traders to take up the roles.

When I first started a team, some of the best candidates we sought were those with SEM experience, in particular pay per click. PPC specialists by default have a leg up on others when it comes to trading programmatic because in many ways programmatic is similar to PPC.

Here are some similarities and differences between PPC and how they can apply to programmatic.

1. Bidding -Search is based on a bidding model alone, in programmatic you can do bidding, more generally known as RTB, you can also set a floor price with certain partners –usually this is where a private exchange deal is made, and finally you can work with a fixed CPM cost as most private direct deals are made.

2. Attention to Detail– Running search campaigns requires an extraordinary amount of attention to detail. The simplest mistake of adding an extra 0 to the bid or budget amount can result in thousands of dollars being wasted and your campaign tanking. The same is true for programmatic. Even though many demand-side platforms have fail safes (a self imposed advertiser-wide limit on daily spend) mistakes can be made and attention to detail is key at every step. In fact, many teams use two people to QA the campaigns before going live.

3. Analytical Thinking– It’s no surprise that if you are in digital marketing you will have to do analysis and lots of it. For example, in PPC an example might be researching particular keywords, “does this make sense for my product?” Programmatic is similar when deciding what audiences or data to use when launching a campaign. The ability to gather information, visualize, and even extrapolate in many cases is crucial to both programmatic and PPC.

4. Metrics– Here is one where there are clear differences. In PPC, one of the biggest metrics looked at is Click Thru Rate, CTR. This is because it is directly tied to quality score and in turn cost. The higher the CTR, usually the lower your cost per click will be. In programmatic a really high CTR is often a sign that you are running on fraudulent traffic. In programmatic, the metrics will vary widely depending on the objective, but one that stands out and a lot of people look at is viewability. Viewability means exactly what it says, what percentage of people actually viewed the ad. So here is a case where programmatic and PPC differ greatly, but both are equally important.

5. Online learning– In order to learn PPC, there are quite a few blogs and resources out there, however, the major difference is that Google dominates the search space. Last figures I heard, around 88% of the search market belonged to Google so usually everyone talks about using Google Adwords. In programmatic there are many different platforms and while there are a few industry leaders, like Mediamath, The Trade Desk, and others it’s not as simple as “just learn Adwords.” In part, that was my motivation to launch Programmatic Academy, I wanted to create an independent training platform to help digital marketers learn not only about the different platforms, but also the strategy behind a campaign.

The points above are not an exhaustive list of things to be aware of when transitioning from PPC to programmatic, but I think it’s a good starting point. The good thing is once you learn one programmatic platform you can usually pick up the others with ease.